It’s funny to me that businesses need to build a case for investing in tech skill development. In the reality of our industry, why wouldn’t we want to learn new things? Why wouldn’t we want to learn how to do things better, how to keep our teams engaged, how to keep people growing and evolving?
If the human reasons aren’t enough, there’s a practical business reason for developing new tech skills: Old skills become obsolete. Technologies sunset, and best practices evolve. I recently talked with a customer who runs a .NET shop, and they are having a really hard time recruiting. Technologies don’t even have to be obsolete—if they’re just less exciting to use than newer tech, it becomes that much harder to hire talent.
Not evolving an organization’s platform, knowledge base and employee base is a business risk. Complacency will cost you. Your platforms will become obsolete. You will be unable to hire talent. Being proactive—and being smart about it—is bound to benefit your company, both in the bottom line and in ways that are less tangible.
Complacency kills businesses and careers
Let’s take a look at a non-tech analogy. Imagine we are writers. We learned to write longhand, so we never bought a typewriter because it was faster to use our pens—particularly because we hadn’t learned how to type yet. Then we never bought a word processor for the same reason. Our writing competitors bought computers, and we’re still using ink. Maybe it works great for us, and brilliant words flow from our pens. But we can’t get anybody to read our work, and we can’t take advantage of technology like our competitors can. We can’t change paragraphs and spacing, and we can’t send copies to thousands of readers in an instant.
If we’re hiring talent to suit our handwritten ways, we end up with an adverse selection problem. We find people who don’t like change, who don’t like challenges, who don’t want to try new things. I would be shocked to read those words in any job description. But when companies sit on their legacy systems, they create that kind of environment.
And that’s a best-case scenario. People talk about middle-case scenarios all the time: Your company can get left behind by not providing new services to the market. Worst-case, though: You’ve got a billion-dollar problem that puts your issues in the headlines. Think of those credit card breaches that make the news. Many of the people who get bounced from those companies are tech leaders who didn’t make the case for upgrading systems, or didn’t lie down in the road for them.
Optimizing the business takes it where you want to go, even if you can’t find it in an earnings report
At the end of the day, CEOs and other high-level leaders do care about how decisions around skill development will impact the business. We do not care which data warehouse technology we use. We care what teams are optimizing the organization for and what problems we are solving for the business.
Are we aiming for speed? Reliability? Accessibility? Our ability to hire candidates quickly? Pricing? Probably a bit of all of those. We want to know which targets we are combining, and what factors go into those choices. We want to know the choice matrix that leads to our prioritization.
Have those conversations within the organization to make sure you all really understand what the problems are and that you are aligned before figuring out which tools you need and which skills your team members need to develop. Figure out which metrics you can drive to. Demonstrate how you’re going to see improvements in reliability, retention, productivity or whatever you’re prioritizing. Then, trust the employees you’ve hired to excel in making those improvements.
Of course it’s a good discipline to tie your initiatives back to metrics, and to tie those metrics back to the key company metrics—generally the ones aligned with what Wall Street cares about. But that is a complete oversimplification, and it’s also total bullshit. Often these initiatives are more about the spirit than the bottom line. I don’t believe you can tie the hours and dollars of skill development to a specific number in an earnings report. Reporting your returns down to the dollar sounds nice, but it can’t be done. What you can do is tie skill development to employee retention metrics. Better yet, you can tie an initiative to a critical business metric—like reliability—and let skill development be one of the tactics used to ensure the goal is achieved.
It’s a discipline in and of itself to be able to tie a training program or new technology strategy to outcomes, like site reliability or app speed, which may not drive specific revenue streams but may still demonstrably take the business where you want it to go.
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